The Building Safety Act 2022 is steadily coming into force, moving the responsibility of build and fire safety to the Health and Safety Executive and bringing new and detailed directives into effect in order to correct the previously poor regulation of the UK construction industry. For freeholders, landlords and others who might have a financial or ownership interest in an occupied residential higher-risk building, this means new obligations. Dorian Lawrence, Managing Director of RSK Group company FR Consultants, shares his opinion on the best approach.
From the beginning of April 2023, all occupied residential higher-risk buildings need to be registered with the Building Safety Regulator, along with what is known as the building safety case, or golden thread of information’. For new-build residential construction, the regulator will already be involved at new gateway stages, so this primarily applies to existing occupied buildings. This is complex legislation, so the first step is to understand whether you actually are the responsible person or not.
There has been uncertainty over the phrasing of ‘accountable person(s)’, especially when there is more than one duty holder. Generally, the freeholder or the landlord – whoever is responsible for the repairs of the building – will be the accountable person. In cases of partnerships or corporate bodies, the accountable person can be multiple people, and in that case a principal accountable person will be determined by either the group or the regulator. If you do have a responsibility, the next step is registering the high-risk building with the Building Safety Regulator.
Once the building is registered, you will have 28 days to submit information. This includes the documentation of ancillary buildings, definitions of the uses of the higher-risk building and any ancillary or incidental buildings or outbuildings and any evidence of changes to the uses of the buildings since their construction. Construction information is also required, such as details of the materials used in external walls, roofing and insulation, and of any external fixtures to the walls and of staircases. Lastly, you will need details of the energy supply for the building, the evacuation strategy and what smoke or fire equipment is located in the building, along with its location. This is no small amount of information.
It is important to note that what you submit to the Building Safety Regulator is not the same as the golden thread of information, which comes into play in the next stage as part of the building safety case. While the full scope of the golden thread has not yet been set out in the regulations and guidance, we expect it to include as-built plans, operations and maintenance documents, health and safety documents, change management documents, materials documentation, installation certificates and risk assessments, among other documents. This makes up the golden thread that should be sufficient to serve as the basis for the building safety case, which must also be submitted to the new Building Safety Regulator before it can issue an assessment certificate that allows the building to be occupied. This information will need to be submitted annually.
To create the building safety case, one must assess the building for fire safety. This will require you to ask questions about various features of the building. Take a fire door set as an example: what risks does the fire door set mitigate? To what risks is the fire door set itself susceptible? Can current problems be identified to reduce the risk and to potentially reduce the frequency of initial checks? Is there a solution to reduce vandalism or tampering with door closers? What information is needed about the fire door set to ensure it performs as required? What tasks are required to ensure the fire door set is installed, commissioned, inspected and maintained properly? How long will it last? What training needs to be in place? These types of questions will need to be asked about anything in the building that affects fire safety.
All of these steps are complex and not easy for the average accountable person to establish and complete. So where does that leave someone with accountability for a higher-risk building?
Currently, you have until 30 September 2023 to submit the key building and safety information. There is a 28-day response time for the register, which means that if you applied to register on 29 September 2023, you would have 28 days to submit the information before you would be breaking the law.
The good news is that an accountable person(s) has the right to seek support from an external duty holder – an independent or consultant such as ourselves – to assist them with submitting the key building information, which means you do not have to wade through the legislation alone. Of course, it is important that the independent is authorised and competent and that there is a written agreement in place for the work to be carried out.
Our advice at FR Consultants is to get started immediately. Define and agree the details of the accountable persons and basic building details and apply to join the register. From here, you can start preparing all the information with the help of an experienced expert. Be sure to choose someone who understands the new regulations, and work with them to gather all the information while there is the grace period of time – do not leave it until the end of September to start – so that you have everything together well in advance of the deadline. Lastly, be patient. All these requirements are new, and some guidance is yet to be released, so there are sure to be delays as everyone involved learns how to most efficiently gather this information.
Dorian Lawrence, Managing Director of RSK Group company FR Consultants